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Scenes, Conflicts and Blasters

Pulsars and Privateers. Primetime Adventures. A campaign that was really liked by everyone who played, and the experimental slot of CottageCon II colliding: did it soar or crash and burn? Well, I don’t think it’s too inaccurate to say that the experimental part of the equation possibly acted as a bit of a weight around the old birds leg, but it was a good session. I also think it will soar in the future, once Primetime Adventures becomes more familiar.

It is impossible to separate the experience from the system in this case, so a lot of it going to cover my view of Primetime Adventures, as the two are very much linked. It’s also going to be long.

One of the main things it has changed is my view of games with less granular resolution mechanisms, either resolving at the scene level or other long conflicts. Historically, I’ve never been a big fan. It’s no a surprise that Spirit of the Century, the first ‘Indie’ game I’ve actually run, resolves at a more granular level (with clear stakes). I’ve probably changed my mind on that now, and I’m perfectly fine with it as an option.

One of the players wasn’t too keen that space battles would be resolved in one roll (and even then the roll wouldn’t be about the space battle), and I can agree with him here. It can be fun to play out a physical conflict blow by blow. It can also result in story happening that wasn’t expected due to the dice leading to an event or a place you didn’t see coming when you started rolling those dice. I can also see the opposite of this in Primetime Adventure’s case: you get to describe it exactly how you want (assuming it is irrelevant to any rolled conflict). Some some characters have an element of physical conflict, being able to author that as you intend can be character defining, whether it’s a shoot-out, physical blows or space battle for an elite pilot.

I think the scene creation is great. In the first session we had players addressing the sort of issues and creating the sort of scene that usually gets lost in the mix. This is good. It’s one of the elements that I hoped Prrimetime Adventures would address. I hope this carries forward to other games. I like the way scenes are created, though I don’t think we’ve mastered it yet.

It’s not perfect though, or it’s not perfect yet. It has a number of issues. The first is quite simply the fact it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of not playing it out. This either happens because the scene has had to be discussed at such length during set-up it’s almost pointless. It can also happen because the ending has had to be discussed too much so you stop the role-playing early as you know the end conflict (I fell for that in my final scene). I think these two issues are just about practising the scene framing and the timing of when and in how much detail conflict and stakes are set.

It also tends to increase the chance things will be played out in third person. This one made me think a bit, because I’m not a ‘my guy’ sort of player, neither am I a consummate believer in ‘actor stance’. At the same time, I found the move to a lot more third-person role-playing jarring. That was interesting. I think I want to author scenes. I want to lay out their intent. I then want to play them out. I don’t want a load of third person description or I’d read a book. There is something valuable, not so much in the acting but in a group of people actually engaging. Third-person has it’s uses, I’m all for it, but personally I’d work on any next attempts to make sure the system doesn’t weight things in that direction possibly to its detriment. The other option when going third-person is to not just go straight, vanilla third-person, but to describe the actual scene that is playing out, like you’d describe a TV show you’d watched.

One other issue I always had with Primetime Adventures was the rigid structure: Producer creates a scene and then each player gets a chance to create one. Rinse and repeat. I never liked it because of the need to be spontaneously creative. Your turn. Create. Now. Bring the awesome. Didn’t sit well. I suspect I wasn’t the only one as a comment was made about being distracted due to trying to think of their next scene. Strangely, my view of this has changed, while it can be a mildly stressful at first you just have to accept the awesome can be distributed around the table and previous scenes often allow you to think of another one as a result of its outcome. At one point in the game the scene I had in mind was sort of taken by the player ahead of me which meant I was left without one just before my turn. I was thrown. I opened it up to the table and I was instantly pointed in the direction of a great one with an NPC I was overlooking. My new observance with the scene creation round-robin is the fact you only get 1 or 2 and then only at specific points. This can leave stuff undone! This is quite ironic, as one of my goals was to make sure good scenes didn’t pass us by, now it may turn into we don’t have the opportunity to get all of it in!

The other issue is conflicts. I’m all for conflict. I’m all for cutting out every extraneous scene that role-playing tends to contain that would end up on the editors cutting room floor if it was a TV show. At the same time, I’m not sure the Primetime Adventures approach is correct: there are just too many scenes that have content, but don’t have a dice roll worthy conflict. The main reason for this is a conflict can be present, it’s just no one really wants to compete the outcome! I can see this happening a lot. It may be we need to refine what counts as a conflict, but at the moment I’m seeing value in scenes that don’t have a conflict roll, though I’d like to think it’s because everyone is just happy with the outcome. I agree conflict is important, but I thinking a spread of choice ones that need a roll rather then forcing a roll on every scene is the way to go. As far as I’m concerned you’d only roll if two protagonists have a different view or if either result is fun and you’re happy with either.

Overall, Primetime Adventures is interesting, but I’m not 100% convinced, as I think you can achieve everything of major value in Primetime Adventures without the radical play structure. Unless the radical play structure is the very thing you’d value, of course. I have a feeling it will be something that is mined for ideas and some elements integrated into our skill set (the way scenes are introduced, and focusing on good content) and games, but those future games won’t be Primetime Adventures or be structured like it. It may well improve our gaming, but it probably won’t become our gaming.

As for Pulsars and Privateers powered by Primetime Adventures? I think it’s going to be great. It has a lot of strengths and the fact that the scene creation process may bring scenes to the table we might normally lose out on for a variety of reasons is a great thing. I think the session we have experienced generated connections with characters and more story. I am really looking forward to how it moves forward on that front. It’s also going to be cool to master a game that has simple rules, but takes a bit of practice in execution. I suspect it also possess numerous advantages for the GM, as it fits into his low preparation approach by putting more of the weight on the players due to the way the game is played.

About Ian O'Rourke

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